Cornrows on top; boho-style knotless box braids on the bottom
 - Photo: Symphony Dixon

Cornrows on top; boho-style knotless box braids on the bottom

Photo: Symphony Dixon

Combing, pulling, stretching, fiddling. Setting, flat-ironing, and heat-drying. Our hair puts up with a lot from us. For your clients with textured hair, that can mean a constant risk of breakage. You can hear the hair pleading: Just give me a rest! 

Types of Protective Styles

The solution is to offer these clients a protective style. Starr Mason, Field Education Leader at Hair Cuttery Family of Brands, is an expert on protective styles and wears them herself. Offering your client a protective style indicates you’ll either cover the hair, tie it into place, or combine those two strategies. Mason identifies four general categories of protective styles.

Wigs. A wig is the ultimate protective style. Not only is the client unable to touch the hair, but environmental elements also cannot reach it. Underneath the wig, the natural hair can be cornrow-braided to keep it safe and in place. Wigs can be made of either human hair or synthetic hair. 

The big advantage to wigs, Mason says, is the ability to easily switch up the style. A client with multiple wigs can wear one style for work and have a completely different look to go to an event the same evening.

“With wigs, I can change my attitude,” Mason says. “My hair can be short and curly or long and flowing.” 

Crochet braids

Starr Mason wearing crochet braids
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Starr Mason wearing crochet braids

To achieve a crochet style, first braid the hair in cornrows and then use a “latch hook” crochet tool to attach extensions. At two to three hours, the looping process of attaching the hair goes much more quickly than braiding naturally long, textured hair into a similar look. 

“The cool thing about crochet styles is that the add-in hair comes in many different styles, textures, and colors,” Mason says. “The guest picks what she wants, you braid her hair and then crochet the hair into the braiding, and the crochet comes out only when you cut it out.” 

Typically, the crochet lasts about a month, depending on the texture of the hair—the straighter and finer the texture, the shorter the time frame. Usually a synthetic blend, the add-on hair can just be rinsed in the shower.

Cornrows

While cornrows keep the hair in place under a wig or with a crochet, they also can be a style on their own, but Mason cautions stylists to be mindful of guests with thinning hair. For a great look, Mason suggests creating cornrows that form a little ponytail and then attaching a long or curly ponytail onto the ends.

Other braiding

Braids have always been an effective way to protect textured hair or keep any hair from reacting to the elements. Braids give the client a style she can keep for days with little additional maintenance. The downside is the time involved. Braiding long, textured hair into a lot of individual braids can take as long as 10 hours, according to Mason.

Weaves

Starr Mason's daughter wearing a weave
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Starr Mason's daughter wearing a weave

Weaves continue to have their fans. To do a traditional sew-in weave, the stylist sews a weft of, usually, human hair onto prebraided hair with a special sewing needle and special thread. Guests can either opt to have a partial, “leave-out” weave that leaves the natural hair out at the top to blend it or choose “full closure” with no hair left out. 

“A weave is a classic look,” Masons notes. “It looks more like it’s the person’s real hair. Your client will look as if she has long, flowy hair.” 

Because it’s human hair, weaves can be expensive, Mason adds. Whereas a five-pack of synthetic hair for a crochet might cost $30, even if the client wears all five at once it’s nowhere near the cost of what might be a $300 weave. But you can take out a weave and reuse it, while the synthetic hair is not reusable.

Leave it to the Professionals

Even if you do not offer protective styles, you should encourage your protective style guests to come to you, the professional, for the preservice—the shampoo, conditioner and protein treatment—and for any color service. Then you can refer your guest to a specialist in protective styles. 

“Let’s say that your guest is getting an extension of blonde cornrows,” Mason says. “Her natural hair should be blonde as well. Suggest bringing in her extension hair so that you can match the color perfectly.” 

In addition, you can help your protective style clients to maintain scalp health. 

“Apply a serum or oil to the scalp after it’s braided but before you add a crochet or wig,” Mason recommends. “The oil helps loosen up the braid while adding protective moisture. Apply it at the part with a needle-nose dropper; the body temperature will melt it and spread it throughout the head. This step helps the hair from getting dry and causing breakage, which would defeat the purpose of wearing the protective style.”

The Move from Chemical Relaxers

Protective styles have evolved.

Mason explains, “When I was growing up, we wore our hair braided and got it pressed to make it straighter. Braiding was considered a ‘locked down’ style. We didn’t call it ‘protective,’ but since we weren’t using heat to curl it or blow it dry, the braiding was protecting the hair.”

Between the braiding of Mason’s youth and the protective styles of today came decades of chemical relaxers that gave people with textured hair the ability to wear straighter looks. Mason says protective styles began replacing chemical relaxers at roughly the dawn of the 21st century, when the fashion changed to more natural-looking styles.

“When this movement started, people would go through the ‘big chop’ to cut off their relaxer hair and leave the new, natural hair coming in,” Mason explains. “We would give them a protective style to let their hair grow out before the big chop—to protect that new hair from breakage at the point where natural hair meets relaxer hair. People were also still flat-ironing their curly or coily hair, which makes the hair lose its curl pattern. So we protected their hair to give it a rest.”

Men’s hair never quite went through this transition.

“When men wear their hair braided, they’re considered to just have a braided look,” Mason says. They wouldn’t refer to it as a protective style. It’s just their style.”

“It’s a Lifesaver”

For daily maintenance of textured hair, there’s nothing like a protective style. 

“Your hair is part of your fashion,” Mason says, a truth that hairdressers see played out day after day in their chairs. “If your hair is a mess, even if you’re wearing the best clothes you don’t feel like yourself.”

That’s why Mason believes women with textured hair are willing to budget for protective styles that keep daily maintenance time at a minimum. 

“It’s a lifesaver,” she says. “With my natural hair, I have to set it with gel at night, comb it out in the morning, and then apply more product. With a protective style, I sleep in a silk bonnet, remove it in the morning, spray in a leave-in conditioner with a little water, run my fingers through the crochet, and I’m ready to go. My curls are set.”

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